In the mountains of northern Turkey, people might hear the strains of whistling on the breeze. It sounds like birdsong, complete with trills, chirrups and lilting whistles. But this whistling is entirely human. The next time you are in Turkey, visit Kuskoy – the village in district Canakci in Giresun province where people communicate through bird sounds. The unusual and very efficient whistle language used as a means of communication by villagers in remote northern Turkey has entered the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
The United Nations Cultural Agency this week has accepted the “bird language” of Black Sea villagers as an endangered part of world heritage in need of urgent protection because it could soon be overtaken by modern technology. Also, where it joins other whistled languages, as well as Neapolitan pizza spinning. Around 10,000 people, mostly in the district of Canakci in Giresun province, use still today the language, which is a highlydeveloped and high pitch system of whistling among each other to communicate in the rugged terrain where mostly they cannot see each other.
This village of some 400 people where tea and hazelnuts are cultivated is located in the heart of the “whistle country” and more than 80% of its inhabitants practice this incredible method of communication. Using only their fingers, tongue, teeth, lips, and cheeks, people can quickly say things as simple as “okay,” or as complicated as “Would you like to join us tomorrow to harvest hazelnuts?” “We are very satisfied that our bird language is now a part of the world culture heritage, it was a dream come true because we think that it will also inspire others,” said Muhtar Kocek, the elected headman of Kuskoy (literally translated as ‘bird village’) He added that despite setbacks because of technology, “bird language is still used by many local to communicate between each other and is the most practical way to do it instead of yelling across the valleys, which is bad for our throats.” But villagers also fears that it could soon be overtaken by modern technology and thus, District authorities have started teaching the language at the primary school level since 2014 in order to instil the practice to the younger generations. According to experts, whistle languages have existed through the ages across the world like in Spain’s Canary Islands, in Mexico or in Greek villages, but the Turkish one seems to be the most high-pitched and lexical extended, with more than 400 words and phrases.
ALL ABOUT THIS UNUSUAL TRADITION
Roughly 500 years old, this form of communication was once widespread across the Black Sea regions. With over 400 words and phrases, it is used to communicate in the rugged terrain where it could otherwise be hard to communicate at a distance. But 50 years ago it suffered the impact of the progression of technology and nowadays the ever rapid growing of cellular mobile systems has put this cultural heritage under serious threat. In the days before mobile phones, these high pitched noises allowed people to communicate across great distances, with their whistles winging through the air, connecting one remote house on the steep terrain with the next. But as technology has made its way across the region, smatterings of bird language have been replaced by much more private text messages. For centuries, the language has been passed on from grandparent to parent, from parent to child. Now, though, many of its most proficient speakers who use their tongue, teeth and fingers, are aging and becoming physically weak. Young people are no longer interested in neither learning the language, nor in finding ways to update its vocabulary with new words, and in a few generations it may be gone for good. Why This Form Of Communication Was Born? The ‘bird language’ has a tone higher than other similar whistle languages, and it can travel greater distances, up to 5 km with its piercing tones. So this unusual form of communication was born from sheer necessity and transmitted from generation to generation
Dozens of whistled languages are found across the world, primarily in areas where steep terrain or dense forests make communication difficult over distances, such as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, the highlands of northern Laos or the Amazon basin in Brazil. But now, technology is not the only threat to this unique language. In the past decades many young people have left Kuskoy as in other rural parts of Turkey, in search for better opportunities. Therefore, Turkish Culture Minister Numan Kurtulmus weighed in the safeguarding process of this language, calling on its users to keep the practice alive. Since 1997, Ku?köy has held the Bird Language Festival in July in their village and it has become a real tourist attraction with hundreds of people attending from these parts and also from very different regions of Turkey to have these people back in their native land with friends or family, to enjoy this heritage. Also, as mentioned above, to promote the language’s use, the district has also provided training programs to primary school pupils for the last three years. But despite these efforts, UNESCO found that “the whistled language may soon totally disappear, unless essential safeguarding measures are undertaken using an integrated approach.